Why Memoirs Are Important

Updated: Jun 21, 2021

I am certain that I am not the only person researching their family history who wishes all my ancestors would have written more about their lives. My research did allow me to understand that one of the main reasons many of them never wrote about their lives is because they did not know how to read or write. I was able to learn this tidbit of information thanks to the government actually asking the question on the Federal Census records that were taken every ten years.

So far in my journey to learning about my family history and connecting to my ancestors I have only come upon one memoir. This was actually a memoir written by my biological paternal grandfather, Kenneth W Stoner.

Due to know knowing my biological father until later on in life I never had the opportunity to meet my grandfather. He did play a large role in my life without even realizing it because he was actually the one that helped to lead me to find my biological father. When I was searching for my biological father Kenneth Stoner was the first ancestor that I ever started researching. For this reason, he will always hold a special place in my heart. Even though he passed away in 1991 he led me to finally finding my biological father. I had discovered a lot about my grandfather in my research. Especially during this time of growing up in Terre Haute, Indiana. By the time I found my biological father a few years ago I thought I knew my grandfather the best I could.

It was not until my biological father gave me a copy of his father's memoir that I truly realized how much memoirs can add to a person's story. I felt even closer to him than I had before, which I did not think was possible to do with someone who is no longer alive. Many things that I learned from reading his memoir were about his life that I would not have learned without the story being told. Here are a few of his memories that he shared in his memoir that gave me a better understanding of the type of person he was and allowed me to feel more connected to him.

A story he shared from his younger years was when he remembered what he called "his first love affair" with a girl from school named Moyne Adams. Kenneth said he must have had it bad for her because he tried to mail her his favorite marble, which he described as a blue taw. From reading this I have a feeling that he must have enjoyed playing marbles since the marble was so important to him. He placed the marble in an envelope to send to her. When he tried to give it to the mailman to deliver to Moyne Adams he refused the envelope with the marble in it. I can just imagine this little boy trying to convince the mail to take the envelope and his disappointment that he could not get the marble to Moyne. During this time he spoke about the scarlet fever epidemic that was going on in Terre Haute and he was not attending school during the epidemic. Kenneth was probably wanting to get the marble to Moyne as a way of making sure she remembers him every day even though they were going to school at that time.

Another childhood memory that Kenneth shared was when they were living in the back of their store near the coal mine. One of the animals they brought with them when they moved to the store was their cow Ole Beauty. She gave birth to a calf while they were living there. Kenneth’s father told him that if he milked and cared for her that he could have the calf. They had no pasture so she was tethered to the back area of the store. He remembers being so happy about having the calf. One day Kenneth came home from school and found out that his dad had butchered his calf so that he could sell the veal from the store. He described the event as "it was the best of times and the worst of time. One thing for sure he was a very disappointed boy." I could feel Kenneth's excitement about having a calf of his own and the disappointment of losing his calf.

After graduating from high school he moved to Kansas where he had visited several times as a child to visit his uncle's family. After a couple of years, he became what he called “disenchanted’ with life there and decided to head back home. Kenneth had an old Model T Ford that did not have a body shell on it. It just had a seat that was situated on top of the Gas Tank. I can even imagine anyone driving a vehicle like that. You would definitely get pulled over by police if you were seen driving a vehicle in that shape. He began his journey to head home to Indiana. I assume that it was decent weather if he had no protection from the elements with the condition of his vehicle. Kenneth remembered somewhere in Missouri that the Model T Ford broke down. Instead of trying to repair it, if that was even an option he was able to sell it in the condition it was in. Kenneth got enough money to purchase a bus ticket to get him the rest of the way home. He remembered that his father had criticized him for practically giving the car away, so I have a feeling he did not get much money for it.

The personal words in his memoir gave me clues into the type of person my grandfather was. I loved reading it, but I do have to say that when I got to the end of his memoir that he ended it with, "And I guess that anything else that anyone else wants to know they already know." I wanted to shout "NO, I don't!" But luckily I do have my biological father I can ask questions and cousins to find out more. I did truly love reading Kenneth's own words about his life. I am thankful to him for this gift.

It has inspired me to really start working on my personal memoir so that I can share with future generations of my family about my own life. I hope this post inspires others to write their personal memoirs too.